Review “The Odd Couple”

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

Where: Northlight Theatre, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie
When: through Dec. 16
Tickets: $25-$74
Phone: 847-673-6300

What do you do when you plan a whole production around a pair of stars and one of them has to pull out shortly before the opening?

That was the panic-inducing problem facing Northlight Theatre’s Artistic Director B.J. Jones who’d scheduled Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” specifically to showcase the delightful match of Second City alums George Wendt and Tim Kazurinsky, only to have Wendt leave at the last minute for emergency heart surgery.

Believing “the show must go on” (I assume), Jones got the talented Marc Grapey to step in as the famously slovenly Oscar Madison opposite Kazurinsky’s obsessively neat and finicky Felix Unger.

Alas, it’s not the same as having the Mutt and Jeff of modern comedy play the newly minted bachelors who commiserate then clash when Oscar invites the distraught Felix (just kicked out by his wife) to move into his eight-room Manhattan apartment. Grapey gives a convincing performance as the irresponsible, impulsive sports writer, and Kazurinsky crafts a quirky, even poignant Everyman-ish portrait as his opposite, but the interplay between them just doesn’t click.

Without that chemistry, there is little reason to dredge up this 1965 Simon classic, which was innovative for its time but now — umpteen sitcoms about every sort of dysfunctional relationship later — seems hopelessly dated and creaky. Or at least it does at Northlight, where the timing is a little off, some of the jokes fall flat, and the schematic structural bones are showing.

The duo’s poker-playing buddies — Phil Ridarelli as Speed, Bruce Jarchow as Roy, William Dick as Vinnie, and Peter DeFaria as Murray the cop, Grapey’s original role — teeter between believable and too broad, and the scenes of the Friday-night games sag and drag on forever. The appearance of the squealing-screeching Pigeon sisters Gwendolyn (Katherine Keberlein) and Cecily (Molly Glynn) — in flamboyantly colorful mini dresses by costume designer Rachel Laritz — injects some life into the party, but even they wear thin as the dinner they’re invited to goes excruciatingly, awkwardly awry even as it gives Felix an unexpected lift.

Jack Magaw’s scenic design captures the spaciousness of older apartments on, say, New York’s upper West Side, but some of the details are missing (front door locks anyone?) and the rooms’ transformation under Felix’s ministrations should be much more dramatic.

All in all, if you’re a fan of vintage Neil Simon and/or Tim Kazurinsky, “The Odd Couple” is worth seeing. If not, you can probably skip it.